How Designer David Dixon Keeps It Fresh After 20 Years in the Fashion Business

“For me, fashion is a conduit of conversation”

David Dixon is one of the stalwarts of the Canadian fashion industry. While labels come and go, and Toronto Fashion Week divides and regroups like a cell undergoing mitosis, David Dixon is still there. He started his eponymous fashion line in 1999, and has dressed Meg Ryan, Jennifer Love Hewitt and fellow Canadian Pam Anderson in his filmy creations in the two decades since.

After so many years in the business, Dixon isn’t over fashion, exactly, but: “For me to show a collection season after season, it has to have a stronger narrative,” he says. “It can’t just be about my point of view.

Lately his point of view lately has focused on the more charitable aspect of fashion. In 2016, Dixon designed a collection in partnership with Ovarian Cancer Canada, which transposed the resiliency of denim fabric onto the resiliency of ovarian cancer survivors. This season, Dixon’s F/W 2018 collection, which he presented earlier this week to a standing ovation at Toronto Women’s Fashion Week, was a collaboration with Women’s College Hospital inspired by a watercolour painting done by Dr. John Semple, a surgeon who specializes in post-mastectomy breast reconstruction and is also an accomplished artist.

Photography by Ming Siu

Dixon notes that many women get late stage cancer diagnoses because “[they’re] not taking care of themselves because they’re taking care of everybody else.” His goal for the F/W 2018 collection was to get the fashion world talking about cancer. For me, fashion is a conduit of conversation,” he says. “For me, that narrative has always been important in a collection but we’ve now realized the power of messaging.”

Dr. John Semple went through 25 versions of the painting he sent to Dixon – a figure on the beach, facing the water with a reflection rippling in the sand – which Dixon designed his entire collection around. The collection includes dresses emblazoned directly with the painting, as well as gowns where the inspiration was more metaphorical, including vibrant yellow gowns that drew from one segment of the painting.

A quote from author Albert Camus guided Dr. Semple throughout the painting process: “In the depth of winter I found there was, within me, an invincible summer,” which he says speaks to the resiliency with which he sees women face cancer every day.

Photography by Ming Siu

Dixon says the collection was important for him to design because his own family has been struck immeasurably by cancer. And it’s family that’s kept Dixon in Toronto throughout his career in the first place. “Originally I wanted to go to New York and do that sort of thing,” he says. “But what kept me here was family and friends.”

“Over the past year, it’s been great to see the exposure other [Canadian] designers are getting, like Sentaler and Erdem. People are watching them, and that brings the eye back to Canada.”

At this moment, all eyes are on David Dixon.

View the entire collection here: